Bowen Yang first joined SNL as a staff writer for season 44 and became a full-time cast member a year later, in September 2019

By Emily Strohm
June 24, 2021 10:00 AM
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Bowen Yang may be Saturday Night Live's first Chinese American cast member and one of its first openly gay stars, but the comedian says he doesn't feel any added pressure.

"Lorne Michaels told me, 'The worst thing you can do is to think that you were destined to do this.' And I was like, 'Yeah, that's true.' There's some humility that has to be constant," he tells PEOPLE for this week's issue.

"And if I ever put pressure on myself to represent in any meaningful way for Asian people, then that would just get in my way in terms of thinking that I am destined to speak on behalf of multiple people," says Yang, 30.

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He continues: "I think that's been the right way to go because I hear very nice things from people in a way that makes me think, 'Wow, that's very nice,' but I can't associate that too much with what the work is, which is just to make people laugh. So that's the negotiation that has to happen."

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Bowen Yang
| Credit: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

The actor's latest project is leading an LGBTQ ensemble in Audible Original's new scripted comedy podcast Hot White Heist (written and created by Adam Goldman and directed by Alan Cumming) about a sperm bank break in.

"It feels neat to have it come from some similar-ish, shared perspective," he says of the all queer cast. "The representation aspect aside, it's people who've been in the trenches. We've seen each other really pound the pavement and make things work."  

SNL
Credit: WILL HEALTH/NBC

Yang, who also co-hosts the Las Culturistas podcast, first joined SNL as a staff writer for season 44 and became a full-time cast member a year later, in September 2019.

Growing up, Yang says performers on the long-running NBC sketch comedy series were among those who inspired him as a kid.

"The female cast of SNL in the late '90s and early '00s. Will Ferrell and Andy Samberg. And then Margaret Cho," says Yang. "Someone who was queer, Asian and doing something that you did not immediately associate with an Asian person. There's a dearth of representation when it comes to queer people or Asian people, but I have to give credit to the people who have been out here doing it, and that's definitely Margaret."